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October 15, 2010

Mailbag: All-Big Ten title game possible?

On 17 occasions, the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in The Associated Press poll have clashed in bowl games.

Not once were they from the same conference.

Nor has the BCS championship game ever matched conference rivals.

Could that change this season? It's possible.

Got a question? Click here to send it to Olin's Mailbag

First time for everything

All things considered, hypothetically, if Michigan State and Ohio State are the only undefeated teams at the end of the regular season, do they meet for the national championship?
Michael in Toronto

That scenario would cause SEC followers to grab pitchforks and torches and storm the home of BCS executive director Bill Hancock.

Ever since Florida dismantled Ohio State in the 2006 championship game, the Big Ten has been a broad target for national ridicule. The laughs got louder after LSU beat the Buckeyes in the '07 title game. It reached a fever pitch in '08 when Big Ten teams went 1-6 in bowl games.

So, imagine the outcry if two Big Ten teams played for the national championship. Everybody outside of the Great Lakes states would point to '06, when Ohio State and Michigan were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 going into their annual grudge match that the Buckeyes won 42-39. Some felt the Buckeyes and Wolverines should meet in a rematch for the national championship.

Instead, Ohio State went to the title game to play Florida and Michigan went to the Rose Bowl to face USC. Florida won 41-14. USC won 32-18.

Yeah, that certainly would be brought up.

Yet, it could happen because Ohio State and Michigan State do not play this season.

An undefeated Ohio State would have victories over Miami, Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State and Michigan. Unbeaten Michigan State would have victories over Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Penn State.

But I'd bet a one-loss SEC team would get in ahead of Michigan State. Let's say Alabama won the rest of its regular-season games and avenged its loss to South Carolina by winning the SEC championship.

The bet here is the computers and BCS voters would decide that Alabama would be more deserving to play for the national championship than Michigan State.

The same might go for a one-loss Nebraska or Oklahoma.

That way, there would be more of a national feel in the championship game. And BCS proponents might not have as many protesters at their doors.

Who's best?

I think that Oklahoma's Landry Jones has the potential of being the best quarterback in the Big 12. But I am sold on the kid from Nebraska because he is such a threat with his feet. What's your take on this?
Steve in Houston

The Big 12 has a history of churning out productive quarterbacks, and this season is no different. Currently, there are six quarterbacks from the conference who rank among the nation's top 20 in passing.

Thus, it's ironic that perhaps the best quarterback in the Big 12 isn't known as a passer. Nebraska coaches swear that redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez is a capable passer when he needs to be; he just hasn't needed to be. That's OK, though.

Sometimes, mistakes are made and it's assumed the leading passer in a conference always is the best quarterback. Yet, a quarterback's primary job is to move his offense. The manner in which he does so is of secondary importance.

Martinez has completed 39 passes in five games -- an average of just about eight per game. That's not enough to be listed among the nation's top 100 passers.

But he's directing an offense that averages 494.4 yards and is ranked seventh in the nation. He's rushed for 737 yards and is accounting for 279.4 yards of total offense per game. That's more than Jones (273.6).

At this point, I'd say Martinez as the best quarterback in the Big 12. That could change, though.

Jones has made obvious improvement from last season, when he was thrust into duty because of the injury to Sam Bradford. Jones has been excellent (380 yards and four touchdowns vs. Florida State) and shaky (217 yards, two interceptions vs. Utah State). But had Texas recovered his fumble inside OU's 10 in the final minutes of that game, even the most ardent Sooners fans might not be supporting Jones as the Big 12's best quarterback.

But Texas didn't. So, if Jones becomes more consistent, he could emerge as the Big 12's best quarterback.

Question of loyalty

Is there such a thing as a coach being too loyal to upperclassmen and assistants? If a certain area of the team is not performing, can a coach be too loyal to his assistants and not make changes to his staff? Does the same go for a senior who isn't performing on the field?
Jon in Dublin, Ohio

Sure, that happens. A coach may have an assistant who is a good friend and has coached alongside for years. If that assistant starts under-performing, the coach may not realize it as easily or may just be too forgiving.

Fans at Georgia thought Mark Richt stayed loyal to former defensive coordinator Willie Martinez too long. Many Texas fans long have felt Mack Brown is too loyal to offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

In some cases, administrations have forced a coach to make staff changes or risk his own termination. Hey, loyalty only goes so far.

Coaches, I think, are less likely to stick with an underperforming senior. Oh, they may give him chances because he's experienced and has been through the program. But if a senior continues to under-perform, coaches typically make a change so a younger player can at least get game experience.

More to it

Remember when the Big East was good against other Big Six leagues (2005-08)? Did the exodus of good coaches finally take its toll? How best can the league fix itself?
Dave in Pittsburgh

Well, losing coaches such as Rich Rodriguez, Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Bobby Petrino has to hurt. There is a reason higher-profile programs wanted to hire them -- because they're good at what they do.

But there are some new, impressive coaches in the league, too. Syracuse is making significant progress under Doug Marrone and Louisville is making strides under Charlie Strong. Given time, USF's Skip Holtz may prove better than his predecessor, Jim Leavitt.

Besides, the Big East has other issues that extend beyond coaching.

This season, four Big East teams went into the season with quarterbacks who were first-year starters. That's going to take a toll, too.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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